Cordoba, Spain. Wallada bint al-Mustakfi was a poetess, who both wrote and inspired poetry, and is said to have been an ideal beauty for her time. (Blue eyes, blonde hair, and fair skin–that was always a thing, apparently.) Al-Mustakfi is known for her unshakeable pride and defiance of traditional gender roles. Not only did she stay uncovered, her tunics were transparent and along the rims she’d sew on her own verses. She was unapologetically intelligent, and taught several classes in poetry and art–which was at the time considered a field for men–in the halls of the palace. She accepted women of all economic status, from nobility to slaves, and–unfortunately–she did have slaves herself, some of which she’d “purchased” (if one could purchase a human being) from their previous “masters” after they began attending her lectures. She continued to educate them. She hosted poetry reading at her palace with mixed–men and women–company.
If you were wondering about the verses embroidered on her tunic, they read:
On the right side:
I am fit for high positions by God
And am going my way armed with pride.
And on the left:
I allow my lover to touch my cheek
And bestow my kiss on him who craves it.
It’s a little shocking, but poetry this stormy and straight-forward and passionate can be found in astonishing abundance throughout Islamic history. Here’s a little bit from poetess I’timad Arrumaikiyya:
I urge you to come faster than the wind to mount my breast and firmly dig
and plough my body, and don’t let go until you’ve flushed me thrice.
As for Wallada bint al-Mustakfi, she remained independent her entire life and never married, though she did have two long love affairs.
Unfortunately only nine of her poems have been persevered–eight of them were to a famous lover, a controversial relationship (political and artistic rivalries) that the two had to keep secret for as long as anyone with hot blood can. Of course, they failed to do this, and the leaked revelation stirred jealousy among other great poets who strove to conquer al-Mustakfi’s heart. One of them caught her lover cheating, gleefully informed her, and she–enraged–abandoned him in great public scandal. He was devastated, and the man who’d informed al-Mustakfi of his infidelity took his place beside her, seized his property, and exiled him from the land. Consequently five of the eight poems written to her former lover by Wallada bint al-Mustakfi were as scathing in their passion as her love had been.
The two were reunited, however, later in life, and forgave each other. They didn’t marry, but lived loyally together until death.